Saturday, 29 August 2015

Movie Review: Vacation (2015)

It’s about a 20 minute trip to the movie theatre from where I live, an easy walk provided you aren’t wearing a jacket designed for ski trips and spring isn’t approaching. When I arrived, sweating profusely from the heavy-jacketed walk, I got a few snacks and a drink from the grocers below the cinema. Because fuck paying cinema prices for candy when I’ve already spent so much money on a film I didn’t even want to see in the first place. I entered the lobby, that familiar smell of stale popcorn in the air, and picked up my ticket from the one machine whose scanner hadn’t broken. Or maybe only one of them was brave enough to admit that I had bought a ticket for the film, out of fear that I would break them further. I got past the ticket checker and made my way down the Walk of Shame, otherwise known as the corridor where the posters for the coming attractions are. Every time I pass that Batman Vs. Superman poster, I keep thinking that it’s grinning at me with malevolent intent; your day will come soon, Snyder. It’s funny because it’s paranoia.

Given my habit of watching films at the last possible session each day, I wasn’t expecting many people to be there with me. Tonight, however, was different; it was by no means full, and it was one of the medium-sized theatres admittedly, but there was a mass of people there all the same. There was general chattering during the previews, and honestly anything to drown out the ads about the bank with the orange lion is a blessing, but they were decent enough to clam up once the screen widened and the film began. To get the audience’s nostalgic mouths salivating, the theme of the original Vacation ‘Holiday Road’ is playing and I get that warm feeling coursing through my body. It’s like John Hughes came back to life for a brief moment to hug me and tell me it’s all going to be alright again. We’re off on a good foot. Then the credits roll with pictures of awkward family vacations, which devolve into just having people with hard-ons under their Speedos. The other foot fell into a pothole and is now stuck. The tone has been set, and it is by no means an appeasing one. It’s funny because it’s erect.

Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are scolding their youngest son for defacing his brother’s guitar by writing “I have a vagina” on it. It then leads into a long, drawn-out monologue by Helms that is awkward but not funny awkward. Well, unless you still equate ‘funny’ as “please shoot me so it will stop hurting”. The young son wags his blue tongue at his family and they tell him not to cuss. The audience laughs in an uproar and I sit there with my face in my hands. A recurring fear for some is the idea that they are going insane; that something about them has changed and they no longer belong in their own world. Being in this audience, where I am the sole person who isn’t enjoying themselves, feels a fucking lot like that. Ed slams his arm into the door for some slapstick and Kevin keeps threatening to kill his brother. It’s funny because it’s murder.

We get a repeat of the Dream Girl sequence, but no June Pointer this round. No, because we have a need for this to be different while still copying the same formula, something heavily lampshaded earlier, it’s the older son who gets it set to Summer Breeze. Then Kevin wraps a plastic bag around his head and tries to choke him. Audience laughs and I immediately worry about them doing the same to me; I must be rendered breathless by the comedy or they will do it for me. Christina ends up at her old sorority house and needs to prove that she can still do an obstacle course while drunk. This could just be a shallow excuse to shove stoned asses and drunken tits in front of the camera, but no. Instead, it’s a shallow excuse to see Christina roll around in her own vomit, all because it’s for charity: Raising funds for people with ‘ass-burgers’. It’s funny because it’s ableist.

Ed scares away the young Dream Girl and fails to describe what a rim job is. A milestone is reached with my first legitimate laugh. A lesser critic would make a joke about how puerile the humour is and how they might as well be wallowing in human refuse if they’re begging this much for giggles. And then it happens; the family go to the wrong hot spring. Why this image was used to advertise the movie is beyond me, but then again it must have worked; the cinema is half-full. It’s funny because it’s poop. They need help from Ed’s sister, Leslie Mann and her husband Thor. The film is attempting to recreate the polyamorous themes of the series, what with Clark constantly going after other women and Ellen’s thing with Wayne Newton. Having Thor laying cheaply constructed pipe for several minutes on screen with no actual punchline does not narrative theme make. It’s funny because it’s infidelity.

Then, a miracle takes place. In my life preserver of a theatre seat, I see it along the horizon. A small island on which I can rest these weary bones and catch my breath. It presides at the intersection of four American states, inhabited by a group of exhibitionists and four cops squabbling over jurisdictions. It is a very surreal moment, and more than a little stupid, but it finally happens. The first cracks of a smile appear on my face and air escapes the bottom of my lungs in a successive rhythm. This fit of hysteria may just be a case of me wanting any reprieve from the torment that I have been witnessing, and will continue to do so, but I send a thousand prayers on the wings of a thousand troll-faced angels to the person who gave me this moment. It’s funny because it’s actually funny.

After a suicidal man tries to guide them through a rafting adventure of the Grand Canyon, their gag car explodes from a muffin button. KaiserNeko should sue. It is at this point that I hit two major revelations: I feel nothing and I think nothing. My body had gone completely numb by this point, having exhausted itself from the gnashing of teeth and wondering if I should abandon this sinking ship while I still can. My mind had gone completely numb as well because I knew that I would never be able to write a review for this movie. Comedy is an abstract painting; no two people will see it the exact same way. I see a four-leaf clover where everyone else sees a pitchfork. Merely complaining about something not being funny for my usual thousand word-minimum would not suffice. I do this potentially tumour-inducing work for free, but I still believe in some modicum of a standard for that work. So I had to get inventive with how I did it. It’s funny because it’s Gonzo.

A truck driver has been following them for several hundred miles. The original dad of the Vacation lot was touted alongside our main actors, so I expected that to be his entrance. Another rare occasion is when you aim low and still overreach. Instead, it’s a pederast who has been chasing Christina to give her her wedding ring back. My chair starts shaking and my armrests are restless. Are the people behind me kicking my seat in their glee? I have been feeling a mild nudging at my elbows since the film started, after all. Oh wait. It was me. All the energy my mouth wanted nothing to do with just bounced to the rest of my body, with my rage as the combustion engine. I couldn’t stop myself, I was vibrating in my seat like another prop for the film’s comedy. As they get dropped off in San Francisco, I whispered to myself “Fuck this movie.” Only I imagine the film would like that, so I immediately retraced that statement. Then they meet Clark and Ellen, who now run a bed and breakfast. It’s funny because it’s desperate.

Between Clark’s leathery tan and multiple chins and Ellen’s surprising amount of preservation, Ed and Christina work out their marriage issues and they all go to Not-Disneyland. What I wouldn’t give for John Candy to suck air through his teeth for the rest of the film. No, instead we get another means to fake us out with an anti-climax. One of Ed’s business rivals gets the last seat on the big rollercoaster at the park. It is the only ride they came for. Because travelling two thousand miles and some change for a single ride shows the intellect of a man who would probably need diagrams to even know how to conceive a child, much less raise them to be anything more than the kind of people who would find this entertaining. He tries to reason with his adversary, and he tells him and his family to fuck off. My stomach drops. It is at that moment that I connect with this family; the audience are the Griswolds. We have been lead along this murky and shit-encrusted trail for God knows how long at this point, only to meet a fleshy roadblock. A fight breaks out, ensued by a punch square to the cheek. Catharsis ensues and I punch the air, letting the reserves for my contempt flow into the screen and fuel the carnage. It’s funny because it’s violent.

They got on the ride, it breaks and Ed and Christina decide to go to Paris anyway, because I doubt that they would have agreed to this film without some kind of hefty compensation. It is here that I show my hand with the end credits, with Mystikal doing his best James Brown impression being played over it. I have seen utter trash doing this, even before this blog came into being. Movie 43 left me drained upon finishing it. The Tree Of Life gave me nothing but two shifted watch hands for my effort in sitting through it. That’s My Boy made me question if I would ever laugh again. The Great Gatsby had me feel genuine betrayal for the first time ever. This film rolled a combine harvester over all of those fields of emotions. I would normally be thankful for the destruction of such cancerous products, if it hadn’t force-fed me the concoction that spewed forth. Home was an incessantly annoying drudge of a watch, but even it didn’t have this lingering defeatism instilled in me by its end. It may not be in canon with the rest of the franchise for much longer, but it still pierces my memories of watching those movies as a kid. One of the benefits of being raised by an 80’s kid is that I grew a serious fondness for John Hughes. Now, I just hope that they don’t have movie theatres in heaven so that he and Harold Ramis don’t have to see what their beloved creation has been reduced to. I finally found it: A film that could break me. I must now rinse my mind with a fellow critic’s views on the film to restore my sanity, and binge on David Fincher to remind myself of why I watch movies in the first place. I fear I may end up quitting this entire enterprise if I don’t. It’s funny because it’s true.

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